Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said the failure of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) to inform Minister for Justice Alan Shatter of suspected bugging is a "fundamental issue".
The GSOC last night said it regretted not informing Mr Shatter of the matter, claiming it did not “wish to point fingers unnecessarily”, but “took the decision not to report in good faith”.
While there were differing views over whether the GSOC was obliged to report to Mr Shatter, Mr Kenny said the ombudsman’s office needed to explain why it did not do so.
“Most importantly, section 80 subsection 5 of the Garda Síochána Act requires that GSOC would report unusual matters or matters of exceptional importance to the Minister for Justice and that’s a fundamental issue that GSOC needs to explain to the Minister for Justice,” Mr Kenny said .
Mr Shatter will provide a briefing on the controversy to the Cabinet at its weekly meeting today. The Taoiseach said: “It is very important that we should understand on what grounds suspicions were determined in the first instance, who determined those suspicions and did the board discuss this and make arrangements for a company to assess whether or not interference in the communications was had.”
He also played down suggestions that only State agencies would have access to the type of equipment allegedly used to bug the office.
“It is not unusual at many of the communications fairs internationally that this kind of equipment would be available, though it is expensive.”
The GSOC also said it was “satisfied that its databases were not compromised”.
Fianna Fáil spokesman on justice Niall Collins accused the Government of trying to "misdirect attention" and said Mr Shatter needed to establish who may have been attempting to mount the surveillance "and on whose authority the individual or organisation was acting".
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said the suggestions of surveillance were "quite sinister". Mr Gilmore said in Brussels yesterday: "I understand that Minister Shatter is going to brief us at the Cabinet. We are seeing a lot of stories now about telephone conversations and offices being bugged.
“I think we are going to have to deal with this. It’s unacceptable, it shouldn’t be happening but I’d like to see what Minister Shatter is going to tell us about it and what he knows about it.”
Sinn Féin's Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said the Oireachtas Public Service Oversight and Petitions Committee would "seek to bring in GSOC before us" to further clarify matters. "What was the exact nature of the security breaches?" he asked. "Do they believe they were spied upon or not?"
A spokeswoman for Verrimus, the British company that checked the Ombudsman's office for bugs, said: "We can confirm that we were appointed to undertake the . . . task but cannot comment on the task detail or findings."